Do you have a favorite childhood food memory? A smell so potent that you can blink and travel back in time?
I’ve got one of those and it involves an old Pyrex yellow bowl. It was the biggest of four in a set passed down through a couple of generations, starting in the 40’s with my grandma. The only thing I ever saw grandma use old yellow for was her weird “salad” that was truly a sugary diabetic bomb containing canned fruit cocktail, marshmallows, grapes and cottage cheese. Well, I guess the cottage cheese wasn’t so bad, but the rest of it was bizarre – at least to the picky eater I was then (and now).
When mom inherited the set of bowls, including old yellow, she never used it for the aforementioned ‘salad’. Instead, she christened the big Pyrex vessel with meatballs – and plenty of them. Learning how to perfect the secret recipe from my dad’s family, mom created new uses for the entire set of bowls. Old yellow was for rigatoni and meatballs. Other pasta variations? No! Always rigatoni.
Little blue was used exclusively for sliced radishes. No, not to accompany the meatballs. It didn’t get to play on Sundays. Little blue appeared when dad wanted a spicy snack and for him, sliced radishes were his thing – especially if they floated in a salty ice-water bath. Head scratcher, I say.
Red was a Sunday staple. Red’s role was important because she held just the sauce (or gravy if you prefer). The bounty in old yellow – glistening meatballs and pasta – often required an extra ladle or two of saucy goodness, once plated. Especially true for those of us who dove into the crusty bread. That was red’s role.
Green? You guessed it. EXTRA meatballs. Overflow central and for reasons I never understood, green’s meatballs were typically doused with a serious snowstorm of parmesan. Like a lot. It melted and added a salty and savory punch unlike the meatballs mixed with the rigatoni. Almost like another dish entirely.
Sundays were the best with meatballs on the stove. One of my earliest (and happy) memories is about meatballs. Kneeling on a stepstool and learning how to smack and roll the raw meat, mixed with heavenly spices, egg and toasted breadcrumbs. I know I’m not alone.
The mostly-vegetarian in me goes off track to make this meal today. No recipe required – it’s all about eye-balling the ingredients and remembering to smack those little suckers hard – between both palms to scare any air pockets out of them. Big baseball fans, always, I remember imagining my hands were two big catcher’s mitts, tossing the meaty mixture with authority, like playing catch.
When mom passed away, the bowls became mine and although I’ve wanted to use them – especially old yellow – to ladle it full of rigatoni and meatballs – I haven’t been able to do it. Not yet. But I think I’m building up to it. The combination of the olfactory memories…the scents of my favorite meal served in that bowl combined with flashbacks of family drama? Mixed memories, but I’m almost ready.
Why the hesitation? Hmmm. While I associate old yellow with happy stuff, mixed in, there were just as many maddening moments of another sort. The kind that were punctuated by Sunday scream fests and bad behavior.
Old yellow saw it all and has a teensy chip on the bottom to prove it…collateral damage during one of mom’s meltdowns. The meatballs weren’t the culprit. But I suspect the bottomless wineglass was. Still, I’ve put it into perspective. Every Sunday wasn’t that way, and the meaningful meatball memories remain, as does old yellow.
Do you have a favorite childhood food memory? (Hopefully one that’s less messy than my meatball story?) Let me know – and thanks so much for reading. I think meatballs will be on the menu this Sunday. Yes – in old yellow.